Major Minor

by Karl Hitzemann

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.

 

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Our "musical concepts" songs have proven to be very popular and useful to many teachers. And we constantly receive requests to do even more. With that in mind, we decided to do a piece that illustrates the difference between a major key and a minor key. For this initial introduction to these two sounds, we have kept it simple - C major and C minor. (You could also have a discussion about the concept of relative majors and minors.) Also for this demonstration, we have gone for the obvious: Major equals bright and happy, minor equals dark and sad.

The tune is very recognizable and easy to learn. (It's adapted from the folk tune "Lavender's Blue.") The orchestration really helps to set those moods by having flutes, clarinets, staccato strings, a harpsichord, and chirping birds during the major sections; and french horns, legato strings, a pipe organ, and distant thunder during the minor part. To really add to the effect, the kids get to ham it up by being very prim and proper while singing in C major, and very sad and woeful while singing in C minor. The same applies to the spoken solos, which should be spoken according to the "mood" of the music at the time. Listen to the performance track on the CD for this issue and you'll hear what we mean.

Perhaps for the prim and proper singing you could have the kids stand very straight with chins slightly raised and their hands locked together about chest high. While singing in C minor, go for the "gloom and despair" approach with forearm raised to the forehead and shoulders slumped forward. There's even a bit of dialog between two of the singers that helps point out the key changes. In their brief conversation, they note that C major has no sharps or flats (or worries) and that when you add three flats to the key signature (poof!) you get C minor.

Note that the third time through, when the song returns to C major, the singers start out in their "prim and proper" style for the first phrase. The next phrase is sung very legato (as if they were back in C minor). The third phrase can be sung in a relaxed and normal style, as the song points out that music can sound like whatever mood you're in. There is an optional second vocal part for the third verse of the song. Be sure to point out to your singers that when they are singing the word "major," they are actually singing a major third or a major second. And when they are singing the word "minor," they are singing a minor third or a minor second. In the last five measures of the piece, see if your kids can figure out how many times it goes from major to minor.

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